Claustrophobic and intense, the trio’s full-length debut proper (following 2012’s Street Meat EP) turns promise and potential into a powerhouse wall of delicious dark noise, all without the assist of a traditional guitar. To be fair, they don’t need the six-string. In its place; war drums, guttural howls, beautifully distorted bass tones and, crucially, a vintage synthesizer sound that lends a very specific sense of time and place.
We caught up with Ruadhan O’Meara [pictured above right], the man behind that last particular aspect, to talk Heavy Electricity, horror, the departure of drummer Lar Kaye and guilty pleasures…
There’s a strong classic horror film vibe on Heavy Electricity, especially Goblin’s work on the Suspiria soundtrack and some vintage John Carpenter. Was that something you purposefully set out to evoke?
Yeah, absolutely. We are all obsessed with old movie and TV soundtracks, horror ones in particular. Goblin and John Carpenter would be the obvious ones, along with Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, Fabio Frizzi, etc. There’s something about the sustained tension and dreamlike uneasiness that lends itself to heavy music well. Horror and Metal have always been intrinsically linked, down to the musical intervals used, the “Diabolus in Musica” etc.
On that note, do you have any particular favourite film soundtracks? If so, why?
Halloween III definitely stands out to me, as I love the sounds of the old sequential circuits gear used, the unsettling patterns and stabs etc. The Phantasm soundtrack by Myrow and Seagrave is amazing, the main theme in its many variations never fails to upset me. I’m also a big fan of The Shout by Tony Banks and Mick Rutherford. Crazy film, and the music supplied by the two Genesis boys is bonkers and works really well without resorting to regular horror tropes. Sometimes just an awesome selection of tracks works really well, Manhunter being an excellent example. Klaus Schulze, Red 7, Prime Movers etc really set the neon tone for the film, and the genius usage of ‘IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA’ blew me away when I saw the film for the first time. Recently there have been a load of great soundtracks to newer genre movies, such as The Duke of Burgundy, It Follows, The Guest, Cold in July, Under the Skin, etc. I always appreciate when there is effective and interesting music used in film, it can really breathe life into an otherwise dull script!
The press release for Heavy Electricity describes “an elemental pilgrimage emerging from the bowels of the earth, only to encounter savage environments, altered states, and the brutal inhumanity of fellow men.” What, if anything specifically, influenced this way of thinking?
Well, the record is designed to flow in a particular manner, and Matt’s lyrics mirror this in certain ways. He usually concocts images and scenarios to reflect the tone of the music and strings a narrative out of them all. Kind of a reverse situation to someone soundtracking a movie I guess!
Lyrically, has Matt ever come up with anything that shocked you?
He’s a deeply, deeply disturbed man – and though what he generally comes out with would be shocking to most, we are well used to it! There’s a synergy there at work.
How do you feel Heavy Electricity differs from Street Meat?
Street Meat being our first effort, was simply a collection of the first songs we wrote. It was also rushed to a degree – we were still in the stages of finding our feet and deciding what we were all about. This time round we definitely had a bit more time to craft and shape the record, along with developing the writing processes we outlined while doing the first ep. We also had a bit more time to experiment, and try some weirder stuff out.
Sonically, things are pretty huge. Production-wise, it feels like you wanted to create a near-claustrophobic atmosphere where listeners find themselves in the same room as the band.
Yeah, the coupling of the heavy mono-synth lines with the bass riffs tend to create a wall of low end.. To counteract this, we really went for a much “roomier” and live drum sound, to lift the kit over the heft. Rian and Scan, who recorded the album, also ran everything through a multitude of different amps at once, the tones of which were blended together as necessary. This really fills up the sound, but as there are a lot of amps pushing air it gives you that live in a room feeling, as opposed to things sounding like they are run straight in to a computer, which we really wanted to avoid.
Are people ever surprised that No Spill Blood don’t feature a traditional guitar?
Constantly! Obviously people just automatically expect a guitar in any heavy set up, but what’s particularly weird is even after seeing us play, some people have asked where the guitar player was hidden on stage, as if they could hear someone playing…
We ran a feature recently discussing the state of guitar music and whether or not it’s dead, dying or stagnant. It’s an argument that continues to crop up even in the face of exciting new music. As a band that eschews that traditional guitar approach, where do you stand on it?
Yeah, it was definitely a move we made, but just because it suited us. It’s not like a major stance or anything. Our initial jams featured guitar, but we thought having synths the whole time would be more interesting. It’s something we may even re-introduce at some stage, in fact we all laid down subtle guitar tracks (feedback, etc) on the record.
The synth sound is quite vintage. Did you employ a bunch of analogue synthesizers or have you perfected one at this point?
We used a tonne of different synths on the record, mostly vintage analogue ones I have acquired over the years. Every old synth has a unique quality of some sort to it. Even though you might have two similar monosynths for example, even the slightest difference in components or architecture can set them apart quite a bit. It was a dream to have all this gear set up in a proper studio, running through amps etc. and be able to select a particular synth for whatever line or effect it suited. Live though, I use a Sequential Pro-One and Six trak. I have used these both from the start with NSB, and I know their ins and outs pretty well at this stage.
Lar Kaye was a key part of the band and he recorded the drums on Heavy Electricity but departed before the album’s release. Was this something you knew in advance of recording? What was your reaction to finding out?
We all kind of knew going in that at some stage his other project ALL TVVINS was going to take off in a big way, and that eventually he would not be able to keep playing in both bands (not to mention Adebisi Shank!). Luckily enough, we got to track and finish off the LP completely before that became an issue. At that point we were all just happy that we got to complete the project. The timing was perfect, really.
Now in his place, what dynamic does Ror Conaty bring to the band?
Ror is an old friend of ours, and a phenomenal drummer. I had played with him in a band a few years back, and was the first person we called when we knew there would be a vacancy on the drum stool. Luckily for us he was well up for it! We didn’t have to spend ages auditioning people or anything. Ror totally gets it, and we were rehearsing within a few days.
How was it touring with Deafheaven?
Great! We did three dates with them, and was the first time we got to see them since Sunbather came out. It was particularly eye-opening to see a band play with that level of tightness and intensity night after night, they totally have it down. I really enjoyed watching them soundcheck, as they would rip in to the mid section of a song but be so precise. Nice bunch of lads too, its always great to play with members of the extended Sargent House clan!
What’s the guiltiest pleasure song on your iPod?
That’s a tough one! There are people that would count stuff like Phil Collins, Prefab Sprout or Michael McDonald as guilty pleasures, but that to me is total insanity! Maybe we are in to some seriously perverse shit, but I guess ‘Good Life’ by Inner City might be one that gets played in the van a lot that might surprise people.
And finally, some word association:
Slave to the Moon
‘Magic Touch’ (I fucking LOVE that track)
Can’t wait to see him take on the Staths in F&F7
Heavy Electricity is out now via Sargent House